CAN WE ALL GET ALONG?

14 09 2014

One of my readers is a guy who was a hippie in San Francisco in the late 60’s, but then took, as it were, “The right-hand path,” deciding that, in his words, “Conservatives have better answers than liberals.”  He first contacted me several years ago to comment on my tendency to refer to the two major parties as “Repuglycans” and “Dumbocrats,” pointing out that this was likely to turn off more people than it would turn on.  Well, those were juvenile insults stemming from my own deep sense of powerlessness in the ongoing circus, and I’ve abandoned the terms.  Last month, he got in touch with me again, asking

 I am curious — assuming you aren’t entrenched in a belief that conservatives are “sociopaths” or suffer from some other deficiency — what you make of this divide and how we might nonetheless speak across it and find some manner of constructively engaging each other…..I do wonder what it means for our country that we have become so polarized and separated that there is almost no temperate discussion across the divide. If you would like to compare notes on that, I’d be quite interested.

to which I replied:

This question, I think, is one of several that needs to be answered–and (those answers) implemented–if complex life forms on the planet are to have a future. As I’ve turned this over in my mind since I first read it, I have come up with several different approaches, and I think I’m going to have to write them down to fully understand what they mean and where they lead. That’s not something I’m going to do right this moment, but  i appreciate your request as a call to organize my thoughts on the subject, including what I mean when I say “sociopath.”

I asked him for more information about how he saw things, so that I would have a better idea of who/what I was addressing, and he wrote

I don’t believe a world of voluntary peasants is necessary or even workable. I don’t believe human nature changes much. I don’t believe the earth is on the verge of ecological collapse. I am not a pacifist. I think war or the threat of war is sometimes necessary. Similar to democracy, I think capitalism is the worst economic system except for all the others. I think technology is the way forward and is steadily raising the standard of living worldwide. I think most leftist efforts to transform society trade minor gains for major unintended consequences.

The time has come for me to fulfil my promise.  To some extent, I’m going to be thinking out loud (so to say), and I’m not quite sure where this is going to land.  It may not be pretty, or even cheerful, but here goes. Read the rest of this entry »





SNOWDEN AND THE FARM, PART TWO

21 05 2014

A remarkable number of people have read my “Edward Snowden and The Farm” post, although there has not been a lot of discussion about it on WordPress.  In a way that’s fine with me, because I have been writing and talking about the topic for decades, and grown weary of repeating myself.  Indeed, the only reason I wrote “Edward Snowden and The Farm” was because IT insisted that I write it down.  The piece was more of a download than an act of conscious creation.

The post did evoke the typical Farm responses in a thread on Facebook.  They came from a guy I’ve known for forty-three years, and I wanted to give him my best response, which turned out to be way longer than would reasonably fit in a Facebook thread.  So, here are his remarks, and my response.

He said: the farm changeover was brought about by a vast majority of people whose material needs were not being met period.

Note  “period,” as in, “end of discussion.”  In my experience, his response was pretty representative of the attitude of current Farm residents. He later wrote this:

we’ll have to agree to disagree martin,family’s got to independently make its own decisions about the basics.can’t run around looking for basic footwear forever.it got 2 where the system manipulators thrived.at that point we’re at square 1.people are people no matter what system you’re in,no point tying your hands behind your back.seems like most everyone is happier now.but enough arguing,you feel like your social experiment failed,well it did but the community recovered and became what it needed to become and is thriving.that’s the long answer.

Again, typical. What follows is my long answer to him.

Read the rest of this entry »





FRACK WHORES, FASCISTS, AND FOOLS

24 03 2013

Mothers of Invention: Brown Shoes Don’t Make It

Mothers of Invention:  Thirteen (from “You Can’t Say That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 6–not available on the net, sorry!)

Mothers of Invention:  Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk (from “Broadway the Hard Way,” ditto)

As I promised a couple of weeks ago, I did indeed turn out for the anti-fracking demonstration, and the accompanying hearing, at Legislative Plaza, last Friday.  The best thing I can say about it is that it was great to see old friends and new, young faces.  It’s good to feel that this movement is being passed on, even if that’s accompanied by the distinct sensation that it’s being pissed on, as well.

Nature

The hearing was definitely a pisser.  Numerous people called the fracking decision into question on all the obvious grounds–conflict of interest, failure to take into account the value of an unspoiled natural environment, and the dubiousness of the alleged benefits that fracking brings to communities.  Channel 5, bless their hearts, did a background investigation that uncovered the fact that making money, not doing studies, is UT’s primary motivation in opening their forest research center to fracking.  It won’t be much good for forestry studies after the frackers are done with it!  Some members of the State Building Commission even raised the all-important question, “what happens if we get a few years into this and discover that it’s a really bad idea?”

“Trust us,” UT’s representative said, just what BP’s people said when they started deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, just like what Exxon’s representatives said before the Exxon Valdez ran aground, just what Shell said when they attempted to moor an offshore drilling rig in the Arctic Ocean last year.

Here’s quotes from some of the emails Channel 5 uncovered: Read the rest of this entry »





ISLAMIC TERRORISTS? WHO NEEDS ISLAMIC TERRORISTS? WE’VE GOT TORNADOES (AND FINANCIERS)!

7 05 2011

Suppose I told you that terrorists had launched a series of attacks on the U.S. that killed over 400 people, caused billions of dollars in damage, and leveled large sections of several cities?  Suppose I told you that these same terrorists had also caused the flooding of  hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and numerous small towns?  And suppose i told you that our government seems utterly clueless about the identity of these terrorists and is doing nothing to stop them–that, indeed, a great many legislators, including a majority in one house of Congress, are simultaneously denying that these terrorists exist and passing laws that seem designed to aid and abet them?   And suppose I told you that our government is not only ignoring these terrorists, but dashing madly off in the wrong direction, using its resources to combat imaginary enemies, and even prosecuting  people who attempt in some way to counter the real threat to our national, not to say individual, security?

It’s happening.  The terrorists didn’t use bombs, or airplanes, or anthrax.  Tornadoes and torrential rain did the trick.  Our country is undergoing a massive, sustained terrorist attack from the natural world.

And suppose I told you there was yet another gang of terrorists who are doing everything they can to destroy this country economically–by defunding and demoralizing our educational system, eliminating every middle-class job they can get their hands on, and throwing people out of their homes, even when they’re not behind on their mortgages?  And that this gang of terrorists seems to be proceeding with the overt backing of not only our government, but millions of voters?

I mean, it’s like “mice for fat cats” or “rabbits for hawks.”  Instead, we’re calling it “The Tea Party.”Finally, suppose I pointed out to you that the government, instead of going after these terrorists, who are doing such widespread, real damage, is spending our tax dollars prosecuting environmentalists who attempt to bring attention to the real terrorists, whistle blowers like Bradley Manning,  who draw attention to what a poor job the government “of the people” is doing “for the people,” and luring Muslim youth into government-fabricated “terrorist plots” so it can prosecute and incarcerate them at our expense, as well as threatening to arrest state employees for helping implement state-run medical marijuana programs, and busting Amish farmers for selling raw milk to willing customers.

Can you say, “straining out gnats and swallowing camels,” boys and girls?  Is there a pattern here?  Can you connect the dots?

The dots most people aren’t connecting here are the ones that point to how we, including me,  my wife, our numerous internal combustion engines and our dependence on grid-generated electric power, are feeding both the power of our planet’s weather systems and the power of our insatiable financial elite.

Both equations are simple.  The planet is warming, and we are turning its forests, with their ability to sequester both water and carbon dioxide, into various single-use consumer goods that sequester neither water nor CO2, meanwhile burning all the carbon-based fuels we can, as fast as we can, throwing even more CO2 into the atmosphere, warming the planet.  A warmer atmosphere creates more evaporation, putting more water in the atmosphere.  More moisture in the atmosphere creates the potential for more and stronger storm systems.  And here we are, biting our own ass.

Similarly, it’s almost impossible to function in this country without feeding the corporate demons that seem to be hell-bent on devouring the world.  Automobile?  Insurance? Property?  Internet connection?  Tools of any kind?  Medical care?

Food and clothing?  Maybe you grow most of your own food and buy most of your clothing at yard sales, but unless you’re saving all your own seeds, using only homemade compost, and scratching the ground with a pointed stick, you’re still dependent, and, let’s face it, all that second-hand clothing came from a factory somewhere.  Still dependent.

And, if you try to hole up and devote all your time to being self-sufficient, you’re likely to have your local codes people knocking on your door, and, by the way, how are you going to pay your land taxes?

Truly, we are all caught in a web.  Some people are resigned to being spider food, but some of us are doing everything we can to free ourselves.  The Hopi had a word for our situation–“Koyaanisqatsi,” which means

“crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living”

So, just how are we going to get back in balance, find that other way of living?

In the Tibetan tradition, when you are afflicted with a demon, sometimes the best thing to do is to create a bigger demon who will smash the one who is attacking you; and that, I think, is what we have done.  Financial vampires may seem to have the upper hand right now, but the natural world demons they/we have unleashed will, in the end, prove to be much more powerful than any financial instrument, weapon, or government.

I’ve said it before, stolen it from James Kunstler, actually, but–get yourselves plenty of popcorn and drinking water, and a good umbrella.  It’s gonna be a great show from the cheap seats.  The expensive seats?  You wouldn’t wanna be in those.  That’s where things land when they go off the track.

music:  Jackson Browne, “Before the Deluge





WHO ARE THE REAL BABY KILLERS?

13 06 2009

Some of us were stunned and saddened last week when Dr.  George Tiller was murdered in church.  Some of us were not.

“I am glad George Tiller is dead”

That’s what “Reverend”  Wiley Drake, a former officer of the Southern Baptist Convention, told Fox News.  Drake said he has been praying for Tiller to  have a change of heart about abortion,but in the last year had been praying for Tiller’s death, because:

(Dr. Tiller) had obviously turned his back on God again and again and again,”

Drake called Tiller “a reprobate” and a “brutal, arrogant murderer” who “bragged on his own website how many babies he had killed.”

“Would you have rejoiced when Adolf Hitler died during the war?” Drake asked. “Or would you have said, ‘Oh that is terrible for him to be killed’? No, I would have said, ‘Amen, praise the Lord, hallelujah, I’m glad he’s dead.'”

Drake says Barack Obama is now the object of his “imprecatory prayers.”  Let me put it bluntly:  he is praying for Barack Obama to die soon.  Since Mr. Obama seems to be in excellent health, this sounds to me like a public call for the assassination of our President.  Now, I’m not a big Obama fan either, albeit for very different reasons, but that is going WAY too far.  C’mon, Homeland Security, ain’t this domestic terrorism?  But hey, he’s not a right-wing terrorist, he’s just exercising his freedoms of speech and religion…and the guy that murdered Dr. Tiller is one of the Lord’s avenging angels.  No causal connection between Drake’s hate speech and trigger man Scott Roeder.

Drake is just one example…. Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and many other right wing pundits have been beating the drum against Dr. Tiller for years.  Coulter, commenting on other murders of abortion providers, said that you could say they had been shot,

….or, depending on your point of view, had a procedure performed on them with a rifle.

OK, let’s change our focus for a little while…mountain top removal, anyone?

In spite of their stated commitment to science over politics, the warnings of every credible climate scientist in the book, and Al Gore’s call for civil disobedience to prevent more coal plants from being built, the Obama administration appears to be ready to approve at least 42 of the 48 mountaintop removal projects currently on the EPA’s table.

The coal that will be produced from this massive environmental destruction will make a few corporate balance sheets look good, but it will release more poison into what’s left of the waters of West Virginia, where mercury levels are already dangerous for women who are or might become pregnant, and also, of course, cause the release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it will eventually contribute to the deaths of millions, possibly billions, of babies–and adults–all over the world, as global warming creates a world in which the living may well envy the dead.  Kofi Annan, former UN leader who now runs the Global Humanitarian Forum, estimates that global warming is already killing 300,000 people a year, not counting the number of miscarriages due to malnutrition, which would probably swell that 300,000 by quite a bit, since about 45 million of the world’s 900 million hungry people are considered to be directly affected by climate change.  My reaction is, “only 45 million?!  They must have had to work on the numbers quite a bit to get it down to that level!”

Dr. Tiller helped women who did not want or felt incapable of raising the babies they were carrying.  The coal industry is indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of thousands of children whose parents value them and do not want them to die. But hey, it’s totally indiscriminate–they’re killing parents and grandparents, too.  Not picking on the helpless unborn, nossir.

So, Reverend Drake, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, where are you on this issue?  If you’re really concerned about “the rights of the unborn,” maybe you should commence  “imprecatory prayers” against the coal companies and their many allies in Congress and the administration.  Or is it that “the rights of the unborn” is really just a cover, and your real agenda is the assertion of patriarchal control over womens’ bodies, and that’s why the destruction of the atmosphere and the murder of millions by the coal industry is irrelevant to you?

In the church I grew up in, we had a different name for “imprecatory prayer.”  Asking for bad things to happen to other people was called “black magic,” and needless to say, we did not recommend it.  Here we have a clear case of somebody who alleges he is a Christian practicing the dark arts….gee, just like Satan.  In my church, we all understood that if you asked for  evil to happen to someone  else, you had better be prepared for it to visit you.  So, when I consider the right-wing punditocracy and its sick, sad culture of death threats, I’m not going to wish evil on them.  They have already summoned it to themselves.  May God have mercy on their souls.

music:  Frank Zappa, “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk“(excerpt)





AFRICAN AIDS IN CONTEXT

2 11 2008

Death stalks Africa.  Her wildlife population is being decimated by humans, while the human population is being decimated by AIDS.  Each dying animal and each dying human is a tragedy, but a tragedy greater than his or her own death, and a tragedy even greater than the disappearance of species and the dissolution of societies.

The overarching tragedy is the destruction of the ecosystem in which humans and animals have co-existed for millenia, as Africa has been overrun by its burgeoning human population and despoiled in the holy names of “resource extraction” and “development.”  At the dawn of the 20th century, Africa seemed like a vast and forbidding eternal bastion of the natural world.  At the dawn of the 21st century, Africa seems poised on the brink of becoming one vast refugee camp/urban slum.  Its once seemingly endless forests have been largely turned into timber and firewood; its wildlife is being driven to extinction by the market for “bush meat,” and its vast grasslands have been trampled into dust by alien cattle.

Africa worked as an ecosystem when its human population was smaller.  AIDS is a blind, tragic, and uncompassionate way to swing the continent back towards balance.  The AIDS epidemic is all the more tragic because it could have been prevented, long ago, by a conscientious birth control and social welfare program, implemented back in the 50’s and 60’s, before population growth in Africa went into overdrive.

Social welfare needs to be part of birth control promotion in the third world because otherwise, having a lot of children is the best option most people have for ensuring their own welfare.   With no guarantee of how many of a couple’s offspring will grow up and be in a position to take care of their aged parents, the best strategy seems to be to place a lot of bets.

So, if we are going to limit births, we need to assure people that their need for security will be met–in contrast to the Chinese system, which limits births but then just pushes everyone off the dock to see who swims and who sinks.  This compassionless approach is symptomatic of the spiritual sickness of China–but I digress.  We’re talking about Africa here.

The tragedy of AIDS as the answer to Africa’s destabilizing birth rate is compounded by the fact that the “good times” of the 50’s and 60’s are now gone, and we are entering an era of resource and wealth depletion in which it will be infinitely more difficult to implement widespread social welfare systems–because there are so many more people in need, because there is less money available for such projects–or any others, for that matter–and because the social network has been so thoroughly broken.

With the sad wisdom of retrospection, we now see that the money and resources that were burned up in military hardware and adventures would have been much better spent for peaceful uses.  War never does anything but make things worse.

We can also see that those who prevented implementation of birth control policies earlier, when they would have done some good, did so in the name of “the sacredness of life.”  As we consider the destruction that has ensued from the way they expressed their concerns, we can say that, at best, they seriously misunderstood the best course of action derived from postulating the sacredness of all life, and at worst they were downright demonic in their perversion of this spiritual axiom.

Now, it’s not for me to say whether those who turned Africa into hell on earth were demonic or merely misguided, but I will name names. European-American capitalists, under the tutelage of supposedly Christian churches, are the ones responsible for the sorry state of Africa today.  Of course, not all Africans have been saints, either–many willingly sold their fellow Africans into slavery, and we in the north never came up with anything as fiendish as female genital mutilation.

That’s a hard line to follow.  Let’s say that we would have a lot better moral position to talk to African people about that custom if we were not the ones who mutilated their cultures and their countryside, and if it were not the excesses of our culture that are causing global warming and further desertifying their countries.

What, at this late date, can the North do  about the mess we have made of Africa?

After many years wasted fussing over patent violations, AIDS drugs are much more freely available to Africans than they once were, but the damage has been done.  We need to stop selling military supplies to Africa–automatic weapons just give people the wrong idea.

At this point, community organizing is a key strategy, because the people of Africa don’t need us Northerners coming and laying another wad of our crazy plans on them.  We need to listen to them and let them arrive at their own priorities, and then do what they ask of us to help fulfill those priorities.  We can contribute a certain amount of overview and perspective, but in many cases what we will need to do is get out of their way–and that is the hardest thing of all for us nosy Northerners.

music:  Bob Marley, “Africa Unite





OK….WHAT’S “PLAN C”?

11 05 2008

If you are looking for a book that unblinkingly, unemotionally, lays out exactly how, and how badly, we are screwing up this planet, you are looking for Lester Brown’s Plan B 3.0.

If you are looking for a book that gives some idea of what could be done to at least soften the impact of the crash that is happening, you are looking for Lester Brown’s Plan B 3.0

But if you are looking for a book that talks about why Lester Brown’s proposals aren’t being adopted, you will have to look elsewhere.  You might start with Al Gore’s recent Assault on Reason, but the Inconvenient Truth guy, for all his smarts, is still part of the problem. I mean, really, Al,…”Occidental Petroleum”?…”Green Walmart”?

A lot of recent writers, from Al Franken to Michael Moore to Greg Palast, and the list goes on, seem to grasp pieces of the puzzle.  Some  blame capitalism, but history shows that the Communist Russians and Chinese were voracious destroyers of the environment as well.  For me, the little-known Buddhist writer David Loy has laid it out best in two of his recent books: A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack, and Money, Sex, War, and Karma, Loy describes “the religion of the market” and how it has distorted the human psyche and the planetary ecosystem.  But, while I strongly recommend these books to you, they’re not the ones I’m here to talk about.  I want to focus on Lester Brown and Plan B 3.0.

I mean, it shows you how schizophrenic we are as a society when this book has a blurb by Bill Clinton, but Hillary’s platform calls for massive production of biofuels, which Brown excoriates, and targets an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050–which, according to Brown, is about thirty years too late.  Barak Obama, too, thinks we can wait until 2050, and John McCain?  Get serious!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The first half of Plan B lays out the problem, or problems.  Deteriorating oil and food security, rising temperatures and rising seas, emerging water shortages, natural systems under stress–all I’m doing here is reading you the chapter headings.  In a chapter titled “Early Signs of Decline,” he tells us that malnutrition is so pervasive in India that “60 percent of all newborns in India would be in intensive care had they been born in California.” and then goes from nutrition to the iminent exhaustion of the world’s mineral resources, finding that there are only a few decades worth of extractable lead, tin, copper, iron, and bauxite (aluminum) left in the ground, and covering the growing number of failing states–including Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons and is just a natural disaster away from chaos.  As recent events in Burma show us, the world is much more fragile than we would like it to be.

All of this adds up to a convincing argument that the consumer civilization that we try so hard to enjoy was a really bad idea.  So….is it too late to change it, or are we headed for Mad Maxville?

This, unfortunately, is where Brown falls down.  He has a great many good ideas, possibly enough that, if we could try all of them, enough of them would work to pull us back from over the brink, but there are also assertions that even an uneducated layman like me can clearly see amount to grasping at straws, even without the question of their political feasibility.  More on that in a moment.  But first, the straws.

Brown is big on universal primary education.  There are compelling arguments for this, such as that the more education a girl gets, the fewer children she is likely to have, and certainly universal literacy is a kind of evolutionary advance, but universal education is a sword that can cut two ways.

There are traditional ways of life that are ecologically balanced, and depend on children functioning as part of the family team.  Skills such as farming, animal care, construction, and many crafts are best taught to the young.  When children are taken from their parents and forced to sit in a classroom where their heads are filled with abstract facts, the transmission of these traditions is broken.  Families cease to function, and school graduates, given a carefully selected taste of life beyond their villages, leave for the burgeoning cities, where mostly they become part of the problem. If we are going to impart universal literacy, and I agree we should, we need to value traditional village survival skills and allow time for children to learn them.

Brown also banks heavily on “forest farming” and no-till agriculture to stabilize watersheds, recharge aquifers, and sequester carbon.  Again, we need models different from the ones usually practiced for these ideas to work in the real world.  Forest farming all too often results in monoculture one species of tree planted on thousands of acres, with herbicides used to prevent anything else from growing, just as no-till farming is heavily dependent on herbicides and patented seeds.  Herbicides, like all other petrochemical products, are just going to get more expensive and harder to find, while patented seeds are owned by multinational corporations who thus prevent farmers from engaging in the ancient practice of saving their own seeds, turning seed into another major expense for the grower and decreasing food security.

Brown suggests that the US build a vast network of electric-powered public transport, with the electricity generated by solar, wind, and geothermal plants.  The US is the only first-world country that does not have a good public transportation network.  What we have, instead, is a sprawling, automobile-oriented infrastructure that does not lend itself to centralized public transportation, and we have destroyed our country’s financial integrity by spending trillions fighting to control Iraq’s oil and building McMansions, so that the credit we would need for such an infrastructure investment is no longer available to us.  Heckuva job, Georgie.

Brown advocates a “World War II-type mobilization” to retool US industry to create the products needed to transition into a post-oil economy. Unfortunately, the US is not the manufacturing country it was in the 1940s, and a retooling of Chinese industry to create what is need instead of the distractions that now make up so much of the market would only worsen the US’s financial hemorrhage.

But in a way, these are quibbles.  The glaring point at which Brown misses the boat is in the very goal he sets:  stabilizing CO2 emissions below 400ppm, with the thought that that is the “tipping point” beyond which catastrophic, irreversible climate change will set in.  Well, even a book written as recently as last October, like this one, can be dated.  Since Plan B was published, Dr. James Hansen, the US’s premier climate scientist, has announced that, in his estimation, the tipping point was at 350 ppm, and we have already passed it.  Oops.

This does not invalidate Brown’s many excellent suggestions for technical fixes to the environment, but it underlines the failure of conventional politics to take him seriously.

Brown points out that everything that needs to be done could be done for a fraction of the US’s, and the world’s military budget, and would greatly lessen the need for military-style security.  Unfortunately, our country’s Presidential candidates seem to be competing with each other about how much they will increase military spending–which will only make things worse, and cause calls for more military spending, until our overseas bankers cut off our credit.

What Brown does not seem to understand is that the US is run by an elite who see nothing wrong with the fact that they are getting richer while we are getting poorer.  Most members of this elite are concerned about the environment, but they are not concerned enough to do something about the fact that it is they and their pathological acquisitiveness that is a big piece of the problem.  Since that seems to be the case, I must sadly conclude that we are in for a full-tilt crash and Mr. Brown’s caring and thoughtful book will be seen by historians of the future, if there are any, as a brilliant exercise in what might have been.

OK, Lester…what’s “Plan C”?

music: James McMurtry, “Dancing in the Ruins”








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